Scotland's busiest needle exhange service shuts in Glasgow

Scotland's busiest needle exchange service for injecting drug users was closed yesterday, sparking fears that HIV infection rates could spike as a result.

The needle exchange is based in a branch of Boots in Glasgow Central Station, which is owned by Network Rail. Picture: John Devlin

The facility, based in Glasgow Central Station, has been used by nearly 2,000 people since it opened last July, and it has been supported by Police Scotland, Glasgow City Council, and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

However, Network Rail, owners of the station, said it had decided to shut down the service after “constantly” discovering drug-related paraphernalia in public areas, including lavatories.

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The closure, which has been widely criticised by public health and addiction experts, comes at a time when authorities in Glasgow are dealing with an increase in the injecting drug users being diagnosed with HIV. Around 90 users have been diagnosed since 2015, with 12 infections recorded in the first six months of 2017.

The needle exchange was based in a branch of the pharmacists, Boots. According to an internal NHS document, the facility has provided 41,238 sets of clean injecting equipment since its launch.

Although Network Rail said it was mindful of the positive work the exchange has carried out, it said it was unwilling to allow it to continue.

In a statement, it said: “While we appreciate and understand the good work and reasoning behind the exchange kit idea, we were constantly finding leftover kits in our accessible toilets and customer toilet cubicles.

“We could not stand by and allow this to continue and so the exchange kits will no longer be available at Central Station.”

While there are dozens of pharmacies with needle exchange services across the city, the Central Station one is regarded as among the most important thanks to its location and late opening hours.

David Little, chief executive of the Scottish Drugs Forum, said the decision to close the exchange “would be bad at any time but in the middle of an active outbreak of HIV it just seems incredible.”

Mhairi Hunter, a Glasgow councillor, described the move as “irresponsible” and urged Network Rail to “think twice” about its decision.

Jane-Claire Judson, a board member at NHS Health Scotland warned the closure would be counterproductive, stating: “Shutting down a needle exchange isn’t the way to tackle an HIV outbreak.”